LIFE of Pi asks a surprisingly complex question: when presented with the fantastical and the mundane, what do you choose to believe?

I don’t have a massive amount of experience with the story – I watched the 2012 film adaptation directed by Ang Lee a few years ago, but I’ve never read the original novel, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when the stage adaptation arrived at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton.

What I got was an amazing spectacle, with fantastic puppetry, amazing visuals, and heart-rending performances.

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The show follows two narratives, the framing device showing Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel describe her life to a pair of investigators from the Canadian and Japanese embassies as they try to find out why Pi was the only survivor of a shipwreck – surviving 227 days at sea alone.

Hampshire Chronicle: The sets and the way the narratives intertwined were incredibleThe sets and the way the narratives intertwined were incredible (Image: Life of Pi)

The second narrative shows how Pi survived at sea, accompanied in a lifeboat by a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. The two narratives weave together, Pi’s bed in the hospital she is staying in transforming into the lifeboat, lights creating ripples on the walls around them.

The cast was incredibly talented, often switching back and forth between playing human characters and puppeteering the various animals which appear throughout the show – more on them later.

However, major credit should go to Adwitha Arumugam, the alternative Pi who played the lead in the production that we saw, for holding up the show so brilliantly. Having to spend most of her time acting opposite “animals” who don’t speak, she was still able to convey a wide range of emotions, creating joy and humour in the audience while still depicting the full gravity of Pi’s situation. When the narrative crosses back into the framing device, showing Pi struggling with the trauma of what has happened to her, Arumugam never allows her performance to become farce or too over the top – no mean feat for an actor playing the lead in her debut show.

Hampshire Chronicle: The puppets were absolutely incredibleThe puppets were absolutely incredible (Image: Johan Persson)

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Remember those puppets I mentioned? Because I sure do. The care and attention paid to bringing the animals to life was truly staggering. Ranging from giraffes leaning onto the set, to running goats and the looming presence of Richard Parker, all of the animal characters have a real, physical weight to them. When they behave like animals you really believe it – there were times when I had to remind myself that there was not a real, live tiger on stage.

Life of Pi is an impressive show, containing both style and substance. This is an easy recommendation to make, although it might put me off going on a cruise for a while…

Life of Pi is at the Mayflower Theatre until Saturday, May 18.